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Trump Tweets On 'Disgusting' Baltimore Bring Activist Trash Collectors To City

Volunteers clear an alley strewn with trash near Fulton Avenue in Baltimore on Aug. 5. Another group was in the city Thursday doing similar cleanup.
Baltimore Sun
TNS via Getty Images
Volunteers clear an alley strewn with trash near Fulton Avenue in Baltimore on Aug. 5. Another group was in the city Thursday doing similar cleanup.

Volunteer sanitation crews from Florida and New York descended on Baltimore on Thursday to help remove trash and other debris from a city that President Trump has referred to as an "infested mess" and a place that "no human being would want to live."

The cleanup squad's arrival comes weeks after a presidential tweetstorm and a feud with one of the most high-profile African Americans in Congress. That back-and-forth also cast a spotlight on the grime and blight that has plagued some sections of Baltimore for years.

In an interview with the The Baltimore Sun, John Rourke, a retired Army veteran, said he was shocked by the litter he saw in news footage of Baltimore. He told the paper he was called to do something about it.

"It looked worse than Iraq, and I was there for a year. It was worse than Mosul," Rourke told the Sunreporter. "You can't get out of a bad situation if you don't have people to help. Government money can only do so much."

According to his LinkedIn page, Rourke is the CEO of All American Sanitation, a business based in Jupiter, Fla.

He also told the Sun that his motivation for making the trek from Florida to Maryland's most populous city was not political.

"I'm a garbageman, and there's a garbage problem. That's a problem that we can fix," he told the Sun.

Thursday's cleanup comes on the heels of another effort that was inspired by Trump's tweets. Earlier this month, a Northern Virginia conservative activist Scott Presler created a social media campaign to beautify Baltimore.

He tweeted on Aug. 5: "Imagine if we picked up trash in every city across America." The tweet was accompanied with a video showing volunteers cleaning up an alleyway in West Baltimore. He said more than 170 volunteered picked up "12 tons of trash."

NPR could not independently verify that amount.

A day later, Presler tweeted at Trump, saying that a local woman named Louise, wanted him to thank the president for "bringing attention to Baltimore."

Ashley Van Stone, who works on environmental policies to prevent trash pollution at Trash Free Maryland, told NPR, the recent politicization of Baltimore's litter problems is not all negative.

"Any help that is provided to help Baltimore City of the trash that's polluting these neighborhoods is beneficial, because that garbage shouldn't be there and it needs to be removed," Van Stone said.

She adds there needs to be a sustained solution and that periodic cleanup efforts will not solve the broader problem.

She points to issues of food insecurity in many Baltimore neighborhoods and says some areas of the city are not equipped to "capture" what might be a disproportionate amount of food packaging waste.

"It's not just an environmental issue," Van Stone said. "It's looking at the social challenges and the economic challenges of a community [that] are contributing to our broader waste problems."

There is also an issue of illegal dumping in Baltimore.

According to a report by the city's Department of Public Works from December, officials called it a "persistent issue" with an estimated 10,000 tons of waste being dumped in the city annually.

The national attention on Baltimore began on July 27 with a presidential tweetstorm and subsequent comments by Trump from the White House, which played out over the subsequent days.

In those tweets, Trump referred to Cummings as a " brutal bully" and said his district, which includes a large section of Baltimore city, was " a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess." Trump also suggested, without providing evidence, that federal funds going to the district were being stolen by local officials.

These statements were found by many to be racist.

At least one person in the Trump administration, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, defended the president's remarks when he likened Baltimore's economic woes to someone with cancer.

Cummings, whose district is majority black, is the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. In that role, he has led congressional investigations into the administration's treatment of migrants in detention centers along the Southern border.

In emotional remarks delivered last week at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Cummings urged the president to visit his Baltimore district.

"You know what, I want President Trump to come to my district," the Maryland Democrat said. "God, I want him to come, so bad."

Trump has said he will visit Baltimore "at the right time."

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Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.